Wall Street tried to extend its big rally Thursday but failed amid concerns about a slump in the semiconductor industry. Another accounting investigation, this time at AOL Time Warner, also reminded investors of their misgivings about corporate ethics.
The Dow Jones industrials fluctuated widely before recording a minor loss. But the tech sector, down for the entire session, suffered a larger decline and the Nasdaq composite index gave up most of its gain from Wednesday.
The slippage wasn't surprising in a market still uneasy after nine weeks of declines that claimed a quarter of the market's value. And analysts were encouraged that the market did not fall harder.
"After such a huge rally, you have to expect the market to vacillate over the next few days. The reason for that is the question of capitulation is still unanswered _ whether we have reached the bottom or not," said Peter Cardillo, president and chief strategist of Global Partner Securities Inc. "It is going to take time to reverse negative market sentiment and restore confidence back to the marketplace."
The Dow closed down 4.98, or 0.1 percent, at 8,186.31, having risen and fallen as much as 118 points earlier.
On Wednesday, the Dow spiked nearly 490 points after the arrest of Adelphia Communications executives for allegedly stealing from the cable TV company and an agreement between House and Senate negotiators on legislation to create tougher penalties for corporate fraud.
The broader market was also lower Thursday. The Nasdaq fell 50.15, or 3.9 percent, to 1,240.08, after a 61-point surge Wednesday.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 4.75, or 0.6 percent, to 838.68, following a 45-point gain the previous session.
Many analysts think Wednesday's rally was the kind of snapback the market needed after more than two months of declines that saw most stocks fall back to levels not seen since 1997.
"We have had a huge bounce, but it is going to take some time for the market to work through this tremendous volatility," said Scott Bleier, president of Hybridinvestors.com.
Bleier said he expects the market to endure more downturns but said most of the damage is over, and that the market has greater upside potential.
"It might be a time when investors can invest in stocks again because they are reasonably priced, rather than buy stocks simply because they are going up. That has been difficult to do, because stocks were so expensive," Bleier said.